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June 27, 2017

All-American Wines for the 4th

If ever there were a holiday that cried out for an all-American theme, it would be July Fourth.

For that special occasion, not all the fireworks need be in the sky. Those planning a holiday celebration for hordes of family and friends can sip splendid U.S.-produced value wines that were recently vetted by professional wine journalists at the recent Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition in San Diego, California.

From the Critics Challenge gold and platinum winners I've selected 20 all-American value wines priced below $20. They will serve you well on the Fourth and won't bust the budget. The following are my holiday picks in alphabetical order.

Barboursville 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Virginia ($19.99) — For those who prefer a milder, smoother Sauvignon, this is the one. It is a well-balanced beauty.

Barefoot Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, California ($6.99) — In blind tastings, this non-vintage Cab dukes it out with the big boys and usually wins.

Benziger 2014 Merlot, Sonoma County ($19) — Nobody delivers high-quality at a modest price more consistently than Benziger. This Merlot is lip-smacking good.

Black Stallion 2015 Chardonnay, Napa Valley ($18.99) — A gold medal-winning Napa Valley Chardonnay for less than $20? Hard to believe, but it's the real deal.

Columbia Winery 2014 Merlot, Columbia Valley ($16) — The late David Lake, founder of the winery, would be proud of this wine. It's another example of Washington's prowess with Merlot.

Dry Creek Vineyards 2016 Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg ($15) — Through the years the Dry Creek Chenin has been my go-to value white. It's a dry Chenin, and it's always delicious.

Francis Coppola 2015 'Diamond' Pinot Noir, Monterey County ($18) — A gold medal Pinot Noir for $18? Get out! This winery is on fire across-the-board, from its highest-priced wines to its lowest-priced.

J Vineyards 2016 Pinot Gris, California ($18) — J Vineyards is consistently brilliant vintage after vintage. And this is a winery best known for its sensational sparkling wines.

J. Lohr 2016 Sauvignon Blanc 'Flume Crossing,' Arroyo Seco ($14) — This wine is still the value leader in the Central Coast; it's among the area's leaders in quality as well.

Korbel 2013 'Natural,' Russian River Valley ($15.99) — This bone-dry sparkling wine from Korbel is better than ever and still a bargain by any measure.

Navarro Vineyards 2016 Rosé, Mendocino County ($17.50) — This is one of my favorite rosé wines of the vintage, and it's easy on the wallet, too.

Pacific Rim 2015 'J' Riesling, Columbia Valley ($10.99) — This is absolutely stunning for the price.

Peachy Canyon 2015 'Incredible Red' Zinfandel, California ($15) — Though I'm not generally a Zinfandel fan, the Peachy Canyon Incredible Red always brings me back into the fold.

Raymond 2016 Chardonnay, 'R Collection,' California ($14.99) — Raymond has always made some of the most well-balanced, drinkable Chardonnay in the Napa Valley. Nothing's changed on that count.

Lafond 2014 Dry Riesling, Lafond Vineyard, Santa Rita Hills ($18) — Scintillating and complex, this riesling is priced well below other Rieslings of similar quality. If you're looking to beat the heat with a refreshing adult beverage, you could do much worse.

SeaGlass 2015 Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County ($12) — At this price, buy it by the case. A gold medal Pinot Noir from a proven Pinot Noir region at this price is unheard of. Grab it while you can.

Sofia 2016 Brut Rose, Monterey County ($19) — This is another gem from the Francis Ford Coppola stable of wineries, and it's a steal. If you want to stock your Fourth of July party with a delicious bubbly that won't drain your bank account, this is the ticket.

Swedish Hill 2016 'Blue Waters' Dry Riesling, Finger Lakes ($14.99) — Many think New York produces the finest Rieslings in the U.S. When you taste this Swedish Hill, you just might become a believer.

Tangent 2015 Albariño, Edna Valley ($17) — This native Spanish white grape is gaining in popularity with California vintners. Tangent was the first to plant it in any significant quantity, and it remains the finest example of Albariño made in the U.S.

William Hill 2014 Merlot, Central Coast ($17) — This well-regarded Napa Valley winery sources grapes from the Central Coast of California, and the result is a delicious red wine with a distinctly un-Napa Valley price.
Posted by Robert Whitley at 10:07 AM

June 5, 2017

Coppola Wines Dazzle Critics

Creators Syndicate

Noted film director Francis Ford Coppola has been a celebrity presence in the California wine industry going on four decades. Despite the celebrity, there was never any question about Coppola’s passion for wine or his savvy about the business.

After he purchased the Napa Valley’s historic Inglenook estate, Coppola promptly made his mark with the now iconic ‘Rubicon’ red blend. In the 40 years since, he’s expanded the Coppola wine empire, first acquiring the chateau and winemaking facility from Chateau Souverain in Geyserville (where most of the Coppola wines are now made) and later the winemaking facility at nearby Geyser Peak (where his Virginia Dare wines are made).

While ramped-up production often precipitates a decline in quality, it has had the opposite effect on the Coppola wines. They’ve never been better.

The two highest scoring wines at the 14th annual Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition over Memorial weekend in San Diego – Archimedes 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley ($90) and 2013 Eleanor Red Wine, Napa/Sonoma Counties ($65) – were both Coppola wines. In addition, 14 other Coppola wines were awarded gold or better in the blind tasting of more than 1200 wines.

The Archimedes, with the top score of 98 points, was given the Directors Award for Wine of the Year and the Francis Ford Coppola Winery was named Winery of the Year for its superb performance across the board.

The Critics Challenge is judged by highly regarded wine journalists such as Ed McCarthy and Master of Wine Mary Ewing-Mulligan, authors of Wine for Dummies, former San Francisco Chronicle Wine Editor Linda Murphy, international wine journalist Panos Kakaviatos from Strasbourg, France, and acclaimed wine blogger Joe Roberts. The complete list of winners and judges can be found at CriticsChallenge.com.

Two other California wineries were nearly as impressive. The Napa Valley’s V. Sattui winery captured 19 medals overall, with four platinum awards and five golds. Navarro Vineyards, a small family run winery from Mendocino County’s remote Anderson Valley, took 11 medals, including three platinum and four gold.

V. Sattui also racked up Best Dessert wine, Best Pinot Noir and Best Zinfandel from the directors, while Navarro also took top honors for best Rose Wine and best Pinot Grigio. Moet & Chandon’s 2008 Grand Vintage Brut ($65) was chosen best sparkling wine and Santa Barbara Winery’s 2014 Chardonnay Reserve ($25) was named best white wine. Of course, Archimedes, as Wine of the Year, was also best red wine.

In other notable performances:

Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery from Michigan entered four wines and was four for four, with three golds and a platinum for its 2016 Dry Riesling, Estate, Old Mission Peninsula ($22).

Virginia’s Barboursville Vineyards took gold for its 2014 Nebbiolo Reserve ($35), 2015 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve ($20) and 2014 ‘Octagon’ ($50).

Jean-Charles Boisset entered four wines from his Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma and four wines from DeLoach Vineyards in the Russian River Valley and all eight wines received gold medals. Boisset also took gold for his non-vintage Cremant de Bourgogne, France at $25 and his 2016 No. 5 Rose, Cotes de Provence AOC, France, at $25.

J Lohr Vineyards of Paso Robles had seven wines with gold or better, including a platinum award for a positively brilliant 2015 Mourvedre ($30) under its ‘Gesture’ label.

Lafond Winery of Santa Barbara entered four wines and won four golds, including a knockout 2014 Pinot Noir SRH at the beautiful (for Sta. Rita Hills) price of $27.

Italy’s Tuscan powerhouse, Banfi, racked up four golds plus a platinum (and 95 points) for its value “super Tuscan” Centine Rosso ($12).

Australia’s Jacob’s Creek checked in with three golds plus a platinum (and 95 points) for its 2016 Classic Merlot at the amazing price of $8. Another Aussie producer, Wakefield, took six medals at gold or better, including a platinum (95 points) for its 2015 Shiraz, Reserve Parcel, Clare Valley ($25).

Sodaro Estate Winery, a relatively new player on the wine competition circuit, shared the honor (with Coppola’s Eleanor) for second-highest scoring wine of the Critics Challenge. Sodaro’s 2010 Estate Blend ($100) for its vineyard in the Coombsville sub-appellation of the Napa Valley rang up a score of 97 points. Sodaro also had gold medals for two different Cabernet Sauvignons.

And finally, another relatively new player on the wine competition circuit, Sonoma County’s Westwood Estate, took seven medals of gold or better, with a platinum for its 2016 Roussanne-Viognier-Chardonnay blend at $36.

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru

Posted by Robert Whitley at 5:32 PM